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End of the Beginning

June 30th, 2011 No comments

I just returned from my last day of work as an English teacher for Planeo in Hannover. It’s been a week of goodbyes, and now the reality that my time here is coming to an end has really begun to hit home. I’ll never teach an English lesson for E.ON employees again. I’ll never even go into those buildings again. After nearly three years of going and coming, it hardly feels real that I’ll never go there again.

E.ON Energie Mühlenberg, where I did most of my teaching.

The goodbyes began last Friday with my last trip to Helmstedt and my last lesson with the chatty secretaries who were the students I had the longest, and they were definitely the most sad to see me go. On the way back I stopped in Braunschweig to pay a second visit to my Grandfather’s cousin Elisabeth, which also ended with a farewell although we’ve only met twice.

Monday I said goodbye to two classes, the second of which was full of a bunch of guys I really loved teaching, both because of their sense of humor and the fact that they loved hearing me go on at length about American politics. I gave them one final rant, this time about the Obama budget talks and how I now think he has no chance of winning re-election.

Tuesday I had only one lesson, this one with two guys, one of them was Holger—the guy I went to the Coppelius show with many months ago—but our goodbye wasn’t too official as we’re now friends on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

My last Wednesday lesson was last week but nobody showed up, so I didn’t need to say any goodbyes there.

And today I had my last three lessons back-to-back. The first was the lesson with Mandy, my most beautiful student whom I’ve contemplated asking out many times but never did because I always got vibes of a complete lack-of-interest in me from her. I’d contemplated saying something like, “Now that you’re not my student anymore, it wouldn’t be awkward for me to ask you out. How would you like a boyfriend for two weeks?” I wouldn’t have actually done that but I was spared the annoyance of having chickened-out by finally confirming after all this time that she does in fact have a boyfriend. She’s never directly mentioned him before but when I asked her about her plans for the summer and she said she wanted to go somewhere with her “friend” I asked “your boyfriend?” and she said yes. So now I can feel just fine about never having pursued anything there.

Then it was my last lesson with one of my favorite students, Katja, with whom I spent most of the time talking about politics and making jokes. My sense of humor always seemed to appeal to her so I always enjoyed those lessons. I’m definitely sad about never seeing her again.

And finally, my last lesson was cut mercifully short as the two women who take part had a meeting to go to only a half-hour later. They brought me down to the cafeteria and treated me to a drink as we exchanged farewells and best-wishes.

The last person I bid farewell to was the very nice receptionist at the E.ON building, whom I told it was my last day and I’d be off to Japan now, and of course the first thing she brought up was Fukushima. But she and the other receptionist wished me a very fond farewell and then I left the building, taking a deep breath of the fresh jobless air.

E.ON Energy from Waste in Helmstedt 2nd E.ON Building in Mühlenberg

This is the beginning of the end of my time in Germany, but the end of the beginning of my English teaching career. It’s been a fantastic experience, one I think was a great way to start out doing this. It’s going to be extremely different in Japan, but I’ve grown enough both as a teacher and a person to feel ready for it now.

All that remains is to get my affairs in order, enjoy the hell out of these last two weeks, and then head back to the U.S.A. for a month before finally going to Japan. I’ll be in three countries in the next two months. Another one of my life’s major turning points is under way.

Skeptic at the German Anti-Nuke Protest

March 20th, 2011 No comments

KT20110319_Atomdemo_18_imagelarge

For the past two and a half years I’ve made my money by working for a private language school that stays in business mostly through one major client, E.ON, one of Germany’s largest energy companies. E.ON has power plants of every kind from coal and oil to wind and solar, but generates most of its electricity through nuclear power. Nuclear energy has been tremendously unpopular among the German people for decades, and over the course of my time as an English teacher for E.ON employees I’ve heard just about all of them lament at one time or another how uninformed the people are on this issue. Anti-nuclear protests are nothing new in Germany, and the visibility of this public sentiment has made the politics of nuclear power very difficult for the politicians, as they struggle to find a balance between the interests of the energy industry and the will of the people.

As an American, it surprises me that for the most part, the government has generally responded more to the pressure of the masses than to the energy lobbyists, and for awhile planned to close down Germany’s nuclear reactors after only a fraction of their natural lifetimes. The E.ON employees I teach find this monumentally stupid, as they all tell me that without nuclear energy in the mix, Germany would simply not generate enough power to keep the grid running. They would have no choice but to buy energy from France, which generates most of its energy through nuclear power anyway. When Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDU) ran their re-election campaign in 2009, one of their platforms dared to go against popular sentiment and extend the lifetimes of these nuclear plants back to their original expiration dates. Naturally, the E.ON employees were all quite happy when her party won the election.

It took some time and much additional lobbying to get them to actually follow through on their promise, but last year it began to look as though the German government was finally going to extend the lifetimes of these plants. Then Fukushima happened, and this decision was instantly called back into question. Plans to extend the lifetime of these nuclear plants have now been put on hold so the politicians can debate it even more, giving time to leftist organizations and political parties to launch another major anti-nuclear campaign nationwide.KT20110319_Atomdemo_06_imagelarge

One of the anti-nuclear rallies took place yesterday in the city of Hannover where I live. One of my friends, Lena, the girlfriend of another friend Oliver, is a member of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) and she wanted to take part in this demonstration. I decided it would be an interesting experience to go as well, even though my opinion on the nuclear issue is more closely aligned with that of the E.ON employees I teach. I was hoping to hear some arguments against nuclear energy that I could take to the E.ON employees this week to see how they respond. My mind is not entirely made up on this issue.

Here is where my opinion is now: I agree that nuclear energy is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s as dangerous as most people think. The incident at Chernobyl was a result of poor planning and design, and the Three Mile Island incident was more of a scare than a disaster as it resulted in no confirmable loss of life. As for Fukushima, there were some design flaws as well, but in any case I do think it’s foolish to built nuclear power plants when your country is in the Ring of Fire, positioned along a major fault line in the earth’s crust that you know for a fact is one day going to erupt in a major earthquake. But in Germany, where the earth’s crust is stable and where government oversight is stricter than almost anywhere in the world, I think building nuclear power plants is quite sensible at the current point in time. The E.ON employees have thoroughly convinced me that with all of the safety measures and failsafes upon failsafes that must be put in place before a nuclear reactor can start operating, disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima would be unthinkable here.

But obviously, nothing is impossible, and even if the plants are safe there’s still the matter of the nuclear waste, which we still have no ideal way to dispose of. We should not go on using nuclear energy indefinitely, and I’m firmly in favor of a worldwide shift to renewables in the coming decades. Where I differ with the protesters is that I think we need to keep using nuclear energy for the time being, as the technology behind wind and solar power is still in its infancy and generating power from these sources is still very inefficient. Most of the base-load energy generation is from nuclear and fossil-fuels, while wind and solar only come into the mix during periods of high energy usage. They supplement the power generated by nuclear and fossil fuels, and couldn’t power the entire grid on their own by a long-shot.

So if we decide at this very moment to shut down the nuclear reactors in Germany, we would have to A) buy energy from France which is generated through nuclear power anyway, and/or B) use more fossil fuels, thus accelerating global warming. The biggest virtue of nuclear power in my opinion is that it does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and thus does not contribute to climate change. If we replaced all coal and oil-fired plants with nuclear plants, the climate change problem would be far less dire.

For these reasons I think we should go nuclear for now, while we invest heavily in improving renewable energy technology so that we can one day move away from nuclear as well.

At the demonstration in Hannover, it felt very strange to think that I might have had the most conservative opinion there. I’m normally to the left of just about everyone in a room, but on this issue I was to the right of the whole crowd. I was hoping to engage a few people in a debate about the topic and possibly learn some things I didn’t already know, but nobody likes to speak English so the only people I talked to were Lena and others I already know.

The crowd itself was something to see. They expected about 3,000 people but I read online later that there were at least twice that number, and now they’re estimating 10,000. You could see banners and flags of all kinds of organizations and political parties there, from Lena’s communist party to the more mainstream SPD, Green Party, and Die Linke. The crowd was about as mixed as you could imagine as well, with just about every age group  represented.

Last year I attended a different protest in Hannover, this one against the military. It was in response to a group of high-ranking military officials and members of Germany’s military industrial complex meeting for a fancy dinner at Hannover’s Congress building, and the only groups there were the leftiest of the left. There hadn’t been a specific issue behind that protest other than the demand to remove German troops out of Afghanistan, but it was mostly just to yell and shout at these officials with their blood-stained hands as they made their way into the Congress building. The crowd there was only between one and two hundred, almost all of them in their twenties or thirties and looking like the stereotypical hippie-protest crowd.

KT20110319_Atomdemo_21_imagelarge But the people at this demonstration just looked like any random sample of Germans, plain and ordinary people who came out in all likelihood as their way of responding to the disaster in Japan. There were old people, families with babies and little kids, and even teenagers there. At the anti-military demonstration there had been about one police officer to every protester in case things got out of hand, but here the police force was barely visible.

There were a lot of kids coming up to the MLPD stand where Lena was working, as they had set up a little fund-raising game where for 50 cents kids could throw tennis-balls at a stack of tin cans with pictures of Germany’s nuclear power plants taped to them. Honestly, I thought this was rather silly, but the kids liked it and the Marxists managed to raise a total of €15 which apparently goes to pay for the cost of printing flyers.

I spent the first thirty minutes helping out there while the crowd gathered strength outside the opera house, and then the march began. It was then that I asked Lena if she could find someone to convince me that nuclear energy generation in Germany should be stopped, and she took a stab at it herself. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before—what about the waste? What if there’s a disaster? Etc. I gave my counter-argument that because renewable energy technology isn’t yet efficient enough to power the grid, our only two real options now are fossil fuels and nuclear power so we should go with nuclear as a temporary means of keeping things up and running. Lena had to go do something else at this point, so she passed me over to Kai, a guy I met at the MLPD New Years’ Eve party, who struggled to find the English to explain why I was wrong. He said that Germany produces more energy than it uses and that it exports 7%, so if they just stopped exporting they wouldn’t need nuclear, an argument I found very un-convincing. But he also insisted that Germany could transition to a completely green-energy-based economy in just five years, a fact that if true would give me reason to reconsider my view, but I’m skeptical about that.KT20110319_Atomdemo_32_imagelarge

I stopped talking politics for awhile and just marched next to Oliver making jokes and scanning the crowd. It was amazing to see how many people were there. A line of protesters marching down the street as far as the eye could see—this was definitely the largest demonstration I’ve ever been a part of (though I’ve only been to three).

The day took a much different turn as Oliver and I got bored with the march and broke ranks with the protesters to go have a beer, which led to another beer and then another and before we knew it the protest was over and we were sitting in an Irish pub where Lena met up with us when her work was done.

Lena and I got back into the discussion and she gave me some additional arguments that I can’t wait to take to my E.ON students this week. She insisted that if they were really serious, the German government could switch to an energy grid powered entirely by renewables in five years’ time. This morning she sent me links to the sources from which she got her information, including an online pamphlet from Greenpeace, an article from rf-news busting some supposed myths about nuclear energy, an official document about the future of Shell, and a few other anti-nuclear pamphlets from various organizations. Unfortunately my German abilities aren’t good enough to parse these documents, but they at least prove that the anti-nuke crowd has plenty of facts on their side. What’s unclear is just how selectively chosen those facts are.

The last point I made to Lena was about the efficacy of these protests themselves. In an ideal world, the German government might actually respond by forcing the energy industry to convert to purely green-technology as quickly as they possibly can. But that’s not the political reality. The German government, widely viewed by the people as a pathetic do-nothing body of squabbling politicians, would never make such a bold move. At best, these protests will result in the shutting down of Germany’s existing nuclear reactors before they reach their natural expiration dates, thus forcing more energy to be generated by greenhouse-gas emitting power plants or imported from France where it would be merely come from their nuclear power plants instead of Germany’s. Germany’s nuclear problem would merely be replaced with other problems.

Lena said she completely understands that point, but she offered one last counter-point that I thought was actually quite strong: if we don’t force the energy industry to convert to green energy, what incentive do they have to do it? Nuclear power plants are like money-printing machines for the industry, generating about €1 million in profit per day. Why would they bother investing so much money in more research and development on wind and solar technology when they can just keep on doing what they’re doing? What’s to stop them from building more nuclear plants in the future instead of wind and solar farms if the people aren’t demanding they don’t?

In the coming week I’ll be taking these arguments to the E.ON employees and hearing their responses. If I learn anything interesting, I’ll write a follow-up post next weekend.

But for now, I just want to say for the sake of my American readers that while I am comfortable with nuclear plants being used in Germany, I don’t feel the same way about building new nuclear plants in the United States where regulation and government oversight aren’t quite so strict. Given what happened last year with BP in the Gulf of Mexico and what happened before that with Massey Energy in West Virginia, I think it’s safe to say that the U.S. government does not have a very good track record of making sure corporations don’t cut corners. The cutting of corners claimed 25 lives in West Virginia and 11 lives in the Gulf as well as massive environmental damage, but these disasters would be nothing compared to what could potentially happen if a lack of oversight leads to an explosion of a nuclear reactor. Building a nuclear plant in this kind of political environment is just as short-sighted and potentially disastrous as building one in a volatile geological environment.

As for those victims and potential victims of the nuclear industry in Japan, my heart goes out to them and I sincerely hope that the worst is behind them. It is entirely appropriate that this crisis makes us take a second look at nuclear power generation, but let’s make sure we have an intelligent discussion instead of just a massive knee-jerk reaction, and that the policy changes we make are based in facts and not just political calculation.

German Politics

May 25th, 2009 No comments

As opposed to last week, this week has been very busy, with five days of work in a row starting on Tuesday and ending tomorrow on Saturday with my 3-hour Mr. Bokeloh lesson. I just got back from my awful Friday lessons, and the last thing I feel like doing now is writing anything, but there are a few things I learned from my students this week that I would be remiss not to record.

On Wednesday I had my first lesson in about a month with Frau Suhr, the big-time controlling department executive at E.ON, and I read through an article with her from the Economist, an article Alan had told me about that criticizes E.ON for Germany’s high and ever-rising energy prices. The author of the article accuses E.ON of fixing prices by controlling the supply, of having a near monopoly over the German electrical infrastructure (E.ON and their top competitor RWE control nearly 80% of Germany’s power supply) and of squeezing their smaller competitors even harder through their control of the power-distribution network which other companies must pay them to use. It was interesting how Frau Suhr knocked down every argument in the article, and fun to see how much pleasure she took in doing so. Apparently electricity prices keep rising not because of any shenanigans on E.ON’s part but because the government keeps imposing higher and higher taxes on the company—not just on the carbon they pollute but on the actual earnings of their employees. In order to stay profitable E.ON and other energy companies have no choice but to raise prices, which they wouldn’t have to do if not for all the political points the politicians can score by taking on the evil energy industry. The power distribution grid, she agreed, gave E.ON an advantage over competitors, but apparently they’ve been trying to sell it since January 2008 and so far nobody has been interested in buying it. And although only two companies control 80% of Germany’s energy, in countries like France and Italy there’s only one company in control and their prices are much higher. Frau Suhr expressed great frustration over the media’s blatant bias and omission of important facts.

It was interesting to hear, as I would have simply taken it for granted that E.ON is an evil corporation that’s raising prices simply to fatten the wallets of its top executives. Sure, Frau Suhr has her own bias, but she has no reason to mislead me and the points she made were quite logical. Apparently the government is much more to blame for the high cost of energy than the energy companies, but the public only hears the government’s side of the story and naturally they shift all the blame to the industry. It makes me wonder if I’ve been wrong about American corporations too, but I’m pretty sure it’s different here where the balance of power between government and big business is not as drastically on the side of big business.

At my first lesson on Thursday, the group with which I normally have good political discussions, only one student showed up but we ended up having a really interesting discussion anyway. It was a woman named Susanne who was born in France but who has lived in Germany for most of her life. We started off talking about an article I brought in by Arianna Huffington, talking about how although everybody is still calling for reform of the financial system it doesn’t look like any real reform is going to take place. But the conversation drifted far and wide and soon enough I was learning more about the German political system than I ever have before. I already knew that unlike in the U.S. where people vote directly for a candidate (or at least for electors who are pledged to vote for a candidate), in Germany they vote for a party, and the party then chooses their leader. The Germans basically know who the chancellor will be for each party, but the idea is for them to vote for the party platform rather than a particular person, the idea being to keep personality politics out of the game as much as possible, considering how well it went with Hitler.

There are more than two parties in Germany but the big two are the CDU and the SPD. Angela Merkel, a very popular chancellor even today, is from the CDU, and most people I’ve talked to agree that having the CDU in power is better for E.ON. The CDU is generally the more conservative of the two parties, but a lot of the governing depends on the strength of the other parties in parliament. For instance, because the Green party was heavily represented over the last few years, the CDU had to work with them in order to get any legislation passed, so as a result the government decided to completely phase out nuclear power by a certain date, I think about 2030 or something. Never mind the fact that there is no alternative source of energy that can keep the German infrastructure operating beyond that date—the Green party is opposed to nuclear power so to get anything done the CDU had to acquiesce, in spite of the inevitable energy crisis their decisions are inviting.

In any case, Susanne said she normally votes for the SPD but she didn’t know who to vote for this time. She said she likes Merkel because when Merkel came into office she was very strong and clear in her positions, but now she’s softened her positions a lot and it’s hard to tell where she stands anymore. I asked Susanne what the big issues were in the upcoming election and what the main differences were between the parties, but apparently that’s also a lot less clear than in U.S. elections. Apparently you can’t quite point to a clear division of ideology between the parties, it’s just that each party has its own specific plans for how to deal with certain issues and the people are supposed to vote for which ever party they think has the better plan. It’s nothing at all like in the U.S. where if you’re opposed to war, sympathetic to gays, and in favour of a woman’s right to choose you vote democrat and if you love war, hate gays and taxes, and think abortion is murder, you vote republican. Things are a lot more subtle with the German system. For instance, both parties say something must be done about the financial crisis, but it’s not like one party is calling for bailouts and more regulation while the other is calling for a spending freeze and more deregulation. Each party has a plan, and the differences between the plans are basically minor details.

One of the issues that’s always touted as extremely important is education. Each party always has a plan for reforming the German educational system, which everyone agrees needs reform, but no plan has ever had a real effect because it’s all just cosmetics and window dressing. What Germany needs is a fundamental overhaul of its education system, as the percentage of uneducated adults in the population is rising quickly. The common vision of both parties is to move Germany from a production society to a leader in science and research. But as so few people actually complete a higher education, that goal is completely unrealistic. Susanne was saying that with the recent boom in the Turkish population things are getting even worse, as many Muslims refuse to put their kids through the Western education system, and as a result you’ve got this huge and growing demographic of uneducated Muslims with no skills to speak of other than basic labour—and Germany already has plenty of uneducated labourers.

Susanne went on at length about the “kids these days” and while half of me felt inclined to dismiss it as the kind of thing that every older generation says about the “spoiled” younger generation, I couldn’t help but think she had a point. I’ve only rarely had a good intelligent conversation with a young German, and to take my class of apprentices as a representation of the German youth I could easily see what her fear was. Every so often I give them a “pub quiz” in which a lot of the questions have to do with science or history and it’s quite often that nobody in the class knows the answer to even a basic question. And these are the smart ones who actually are going through higher education. But Susanne pointed out that in the German system, once you get to the high school level you can either continue on the academic path or simply choose to go to technical school and become a labourer, which many do. Furthermore, you can go through university taking as few classes at a time as you want, so student often bide their time, taking sometimes as much as 10 or more years to get a degree. In contrast with France, student not only attend school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week (with a break on Wednesday afternoon—but I still think that’s excessive) but they finish high school at 15 or 16, and are often finished with college and ready to join the workforce at just 20 years old. There have been proposals to send German kids to school for at least a comparable amount of time (like say…9 to 5 for five days a week) but the parents protest that it’s too much for the kids and no serious changes are ever made.

Meanwhile, unemployment is rising while the number of educated, skilled workers is dropping. One of E.ON’s subsidiaries in Brandenburg, for instance, has been looking to hire people for years but even with millions of unemployed Germans they still haven’t found enough qualified people to fill those positions. The system badly needs reform, but nobody is willing to seriously reform it. Susanne is very worried that the basic societal and economic strength of Germany that it has enjoyed since the 50s is slipping away and may be nothing more than a memory once the younger generation, this generation of spoiled brats who know all there is to know about pop music but nothing at all about science or history, takes control of the state. And while part of me still thinks that every generation must feel the same way about the generation following it, a part of me does think that this is a legitimate worry. After all, as the eastern countries continue to get serious about education while the western countries get less and less serious, major global balance of power shifts seem completely inevitable. And as awful as Western civilization may be, it’s not like Eastern civilization (namely China) is much better.

Anyway, after that class I had my lesson with the apprentices, in which I just happened to have another pub quiz prepared for the end of class. While the students did about as well as usual on the general knowledge questions, I thought I’d be making it easier for them by making the second half of the quiz completely about entertainment. There were seven questions where I just gave movie quotes and asked for the title of the movie, and seven questions with quotes from lyrics of songs from the 90s, which I thought would be easy as hell for them. But shockingly they all did terrible. The movie quotes I could understand because all their movies are dubbed into German. The only ones anyone knew were “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “Life is like a box of chocolates.” Absolutely no one had a clue about “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” or “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” although they had at least heard of the films those quotes are from.

But what really shocked me was the music round. I figured these kids grew up in the 90s like me so they would have heard these songs a million times, like “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers or “Ants Marching” by the Dave Matthews Band. But the only one anyone got was “Come as you Are” by Nirvana. What flabbergasted me was that nobody got “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” I could hardly contain my disbelief when I was going over the answers with them. “You mean to tell me that none of you have ever heard of the Smashing Pumpkins?! Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness? One of the greatest albums of the 1990s?! What the hell were you listening to all those years!!?” Apparently they were listening to shitty euro-pop the whole time. Before leaving class I let them know they’d all been deprived, and that there was a serious hole in their lives where bands like the Smashing Pumpkins should be.

So that obviously made me more inclined to agree with Susanne. I don’t know what’s going to become of this country when the euro-pop generation takes over, but it doesn’t look very promising.

Endgame: E.ON

February 8th, 2009 No comments

On Thursday I had one of my best classes ever. I was looking online for an article that would provoke a truly interesting discussion, and as E.ON is an energy company I had to find something that related to the topic of energy in at least a general way. I wanted to look at an argument similar to that of Derrick Jensen’s argument in Endgame, a book I read last year that really got me thinking about the end of civilization. After searching for awhile and failing to find anything I figured I should just try to find the source itself, and I came across a PDF of the premises and first three chapters of the actual book.

As it happened, I had a full class for the first time ever, all four of my students from Andreas and Monika to the lawyers Christine in her late twenties and Suzanne who was born in France but has been living in Germany for at least thirty or forty years. The three woman are pretty liberal and Andreas is quite conservative so I expected a good discussion. All of them are advanced speakers so it hardly felt like an English course at all—it turned out to be more of a philosophy or political science class.

Much to my surprise, there was unanimous agreement with nearly all of Jensen’s premises. They reacted with shock at how direct and strong the statements were, but they couldn’t deny the truth in them. Civilization, they agreed, is unsustainable in its present form and a catastrophic collapse is likely to occur. Andreas was dead certain that it would, as he had the most negative view of human nature. All societies, he held, are rooted in the violent subjugation of the many at the hands of a powerful few. You could put just two people in a room with some food and water, he said, and no matter what they would eventually find themselves fighting over who gets the bigger share.

I explained that not all societies are unsustainable and rooted in violence. Native Americans are the prime example Jensen writes about of a culture that does not take more from the land than they need and where the leaders of a tribe do not rule by force but because they are regarded as the wisest. Andreas didn’t disagree but the idea that we should all go back to living a tribal existence seemed absurd to him.

When we reached the statement that “Love does not imply pacifism” and I talked about how Jensen advocates the use of violence as necessary to protect the natural world, it was Monika who first said that such a statement makes him no better than the people he believes are killing the planet. Suzanne agreed, saying his beliefs were contradictory. But I countered by pointing out that there is a clear distinction between violence for the sake of a greater good and violence for the sake of personal interest. If one is willing to die for a cause he believes is greater than himself, this is a completely different thing than a person who is willing to kill insofar as it will benefit himself or his own group but will not risk his own life. That was all it took for Suzanne to change her mind, and the rest agreed as well.

But the most interesting parts of the discussion came when we were talking about the general idea of the downfall of humanity. Both Suzanne and Andreas are Christian, but where Suzanne sees a divine plan where God has a destiny for humanity, Andreas believes that human beings are just one tiny piece of God’s universe, and our time on earth just a blink of an eye. He believes that not only will civilization collapse but that human beings will go extinct as well, and relatively soon. Suzanne wouldn’t accept this, believing that God has a plan for us and although there may be a catastrophe that will wipe most of us out (she cited the Noah’s ark story) there will always be some survivors who can start again and hopefully do it right.

I risked getting even more philosophical and pointed out that belief in God and a divine plan does make a huge difference in how a person will see the issue. If you believe we’re here for a reason, you won’t think that God would really let us destroy ourselves, but if you believe that we’re purely here by chance it becomes obvious that nothing guarantees our survival. But I even got Suzanne to agree that we are still responsible for ourselves, and that even if God exists He isn’t going to do everything for us. I suppose it was her inner Frenchness that caused her to agree with this existentialist assessment—that we can’t just sit back and hope that God will take care of everything for us.

In the end, all were quite ready to accept that civilization is definitely going to collapse and there’s nothing we can do about it. The only minor point of contention is whether there is any hope at all—whether after the collapse human beings can start again and figure out a way to live a more sane and sustainable existence. Andreas said no, and he may be right, but I didn’t want to seem like the prophet of doom, so I offered the words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama when I saw him a couple of years ago at a talk he gave in Princeton—that while things may look really bad in the short term, a lot of moral progress has been made in the long-term such as the abolition of slavery and the growing equality of women in societies around the world. I offered the possibility that humans can learn from history and that perhaps in the future we will be able to live peacefully and sustainably in the world. I think everyone was grateful to me for ending on a positive note.

I could tell they were all lost in thought when I ended the lesson and said goodbye. I’m sure I gave them enough to think about for quite some time, and that was a strangely good feeling I’m not used to. Perhaps they’ll go and talk about it to their friends and family or the rest of their co-workers in the energy industry. I certainly hope so. Because as I said towards the beginning when they were still shocked at the force of his premises and the serious nature of their implications—this is a problem we’re all aware of but we never talk about. If civilization is really certain to collapse (and these energy industry people had no arguments to the contrary) and the longer we wait for the collapse the messier it will be, what we have to be doing now is talking about it and spreading these ideas. My current job actually gives me the opportunity to do that, and as such I’ll take advantage when I can.

Back to “Work”

January 6th, 2009 No comments

Things are just about back to normal. After my long e-mail accepting Corey’s “decision not to be my friend anymore” he wrote me back and apparently he never made such a decision. He was just angry. We cleared things up (I hope) and now we’re in touch again and he’s probably still the only person reading this.

As for life in Hannover, I had my first day back at “work” yesterday. I had to get up early yesterday for a couple of substitution lessons for Alan. The secretaries at Planeo had screwed up the meeting room so I wandered around from room to room and building to building for a good half-hour, calling the office several times so they could call the woman who was waiting for me and we finally found each other. She was the only one there out of three people, and apparently this is usually the case. A very nice woman named Sabine who doesn’t use English for her job but likes to take lessons anyway just to keep her skills sharp. Apparently she speaks four languages—German, English, French, and Dutch, which is what she speaks at home because her husband is Dutch. I could tell she used to be incredibly beautiful, but luckily it’s been at least two decades since I would have fallen in love with her. Anyway, I didn’t really have anything planned so I just busted out the issues list and a discussion about global warming (everyone’s favourite topic) turned into a much deeper conversation even venturing into the topics of religion and spirituality. She thinks religion is responsible for every war. I didn’t say I disagreed, but devil’s advocate that I am I defended the principles at the core of religion and blamed the wars on people’s ignorance rather than the religions themselves.

It was a pleasant exchange, and then I went to my second lesson to which nobody showed up, which means I get paid for nothing. So I walked out of there having made 68 euros for basically just having a nice conversation for an hour. It feels wrong somehow, but I can’t complain. If the energy industry wants to share some of its abundant supply of money with me, I won’t refuses.

I went to the Planeo office to hand in my bill for last month, and I practiced my newfound German speaking ability on the secretaries there, who were extremely glad to not have to speak English to me. That went well.

Then at night I had another “date” with Frau Sen, who wants to change our meeting time from Monday night to Thursday afternoon, right after my lesson with the apprentices, which would make for a really long-ass day for me every Thursday, but would completely free up Mondays. We agreed to give it a try, but not until two weeks from now at the earliest. Most of that lesson was spent on the thrilling subject of “contract remedies” but when neither of us could take any more of that I busted out the issues sheet and we had the global warming conversation as well. She doesn’t have much of an opinion on the issue, so I just talked about an article I’d read that morning that says humans are not responsible for it. There are some powerful fucking arguments that raise all kinds of doubts about man’s impact on the climate, like the fact that carbon dioxide levels have always historically risen AFTER the earth’s temperature rises (due to melting icecaps) and that the giant fusion reactor in the sky has WAY more of an impact on the earth than a trace amount of gas in the atmosphere, but when all is said and done I think we should still try and minimize our impact anyway. Fuck the coal industry and automobile manufacturers.

The next topic was more interesting—separation of church and state. She said that they are completely separated but I pointed out that even if it’s not explicit, religiously-derived morality is still behind much of the laws today—it’s just harder to see in Europe than in the U.S. Prostitution is the perfect example. It’s not illegal for any practical reason—it’s just seen as immoral because the Bible says so. She tried to tell me that it’s not the Bible that makes people believe it’s wrong, that plenty of non-religious people think it’s immoral too, and I asked her where they get their morals from. Education. Okay, so the teachers decide what’s right and wrong? No, it’s…some German word that doesn’t translate…the culture. Society. Okay, so where does socially-constructed morality have its roots? Religion! Tell me I’m wrong. No? Okay then. Check-mate.

And she’s the lawyer! The one who’s supposed to make arguments for a living. Can’t even tell me where morals come from if not from God….Somewhere buried under a hill in France, Camus was laughing.

Quality People

December 9th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Things have been going pretty well so far this week. Yesterday was an all-around good day, the kind indicative of most of my days now, but with just a few extra interesting things. Everything was pretty routine at first. I got up, ate breakfast while scanning the blogs, then headed out to the Planeo office to print some stuff for my lessons. I came back, wrote a little section in my book, and then headed off to the nearby town of Lehrte to do a couple of substitutions for Amanda.

Because I’m pretty much done with the whole Emotions lesson and the Personality Traits lesson I wanted to prepare something else for substitutions, so this weekend I spent several hours looking for short opinion blurbs on the internet regarding political issues. I found a message-board website that fit the right characteristics and went through about 15 pages of these with comments about how people feel about everything from Gun Control to the Death Penalty to Gay Marriage and even Space Exploration. Finding comments of a good length (4-8 sentences) that also weren’t completely crazy and where the English was decent enough for an English student to read was quite the laborious task, but when it was over I had a good deal of food for discussion, which is the best thing to do in class. I’ll also learn a lot by getting the opinion of Germans related to these issues.

So for my first lesson yesterday, only one guy showed up, but the good thing about this lesson plan is that you only need one person, so we went through my print-outs and read through and discussed all the issues he wanted to talk about, which were mostly those having to do with energy and the environment (I made sure to pick a lot of those because just about all of my students work in that industry). Just like all the other cogs in the civilization machine I have met, he was also very pro-environment and concerned about global warming and whatnot. He was also in favor of Space Exploration in spite of the high cost, and critical of the lack of Gun Control in the U.S., although he did not know enough about the subject to have an opinion on Medical Marijuana.

For my next lesson, it was only one person for half the class, but the guy happened to be one of the gay guys from Amanda’s party last Saturday. We spent the first half-hour just discussing a lot of the intricacies of E.ON and the entire German energy-distribution grid, which was slightly more interesting than I thought it would be, and then we got to my pages and pages of issues. Surprise surprise, he wanted to talk about Gay Marriage. Fine by me. I’d been itching to talk about Gay Marriage myself for a long time, and who better to talk about it with than an actual gay person? So Berndt and I got into a long discussion about intolerance and how stupid people in society always fuck things up for everyone else and whatnot. Poor Lara, who came in just when the discussion began, had very little to say. I learned from Berndt that in Germany they have civil partnerships for same-sex couples not for any biblical reasons (apparently in Germany priests don’t have any authority to marry people and ceremonies are only held in churches as a tradition) but because of how the law was written over a hundred years ago when they still had a Kaiser and nobody thought to write anything other than “union of a man and a woman” when discussing marriage. But even though marriage itself isn’t technically a religious institution, these civil-partnerships are apparently even less equal to marriage than the so-called “civil unions” would be in the U.S. They do have the right to visit their partner in intensive care, but they have to pay just as much taxes as unmarried people.

Anyway, we didn’t get to any other issues until it was time to go, and Berndt was taking the same train back to Hannover as me so our conversation actually continued for awhile, only now it got more personal and he actually told me things about his private life and experiences with previous partners and at previous jobs where nobody respected him and even the people he was in charge of never did what he told them to. I guess Germans are as homophobic as they are racist, which I can’t say is very surprising. He had thought of moving to Cologne with his partner, as apparently that’s like the San Francisco of Germany. He also developed his own software integrating E.ON’s power grid with Google Earth, just purely as a hobby, and the company just took the software (worth millions of dollars had they gone through an actual software company) and didn’t pay him for it, and didn’t even thank him or show any appreciation for it. In any case, by the time we got to Hannover and went our separate ways, I could easily tell why Amanda had gotten to know him outside of class and everything. He was a quality guy. A kind of person who is very much worth knowing.

So after that it was a few hours of normalcy, with dinner and some Spore, and then at about 8:30 I got a call from none other than Oliver, inviting me over to his girlfriend’s place to hang out. So I did just that, and when I got to the apartment Oliver came outside and had a smoke with me. He invited me upstairs and I hung out for awhile making small-talk with Oliver and Lena, who I could also tell are quality people worth knowing. They’re just very warm and welcoming, good-humoured people. When I said goodbye after about an hour and a half, they both hugged me. I guess it’s more of a culture thing for Germans to hug each other (apparently the homophobia is not a factor when it comes to men hugging) but just the fact that they were treating me like an old friend after only having met them twice was very nice.

So I came home, happy about my new potential friends. The whole day just made me feel like a real adult with an actual life, and I once again took some time to appreciate how I’d really built this all for myself out of next to nothing.

And today I was supposed to have my crazy juxtaposition-day of Frau Suhr the big-time energy executive and Mr. Hennicke the lowly soldier, but Mr. Hennicke cancelled so today it was just Frau Suhr, and things went much much better than last week. I had some grammar exercises prepared as well as an article from the internet about why nuclear power was uneconomical, and we went through it all and discussed it and she explained that the article might be right but she was skeptical of his calculations because her numbers were different. I also realized she’s not as conservative as I thought. For example, it’s German law for an energy company, after decommissioning a plant built in a natural environment, to have to pay for putting the environment back the way it was, like to plant trees to replace any they’d had to chop down and whatnot. She said she likes this idea in principle, but it’s just an unfair burden to the German energy industry because it’s the only country that has such laws. And that’s something I can totally understand. But anyway, at the end of the lesson she said she liked it and that it was very interesting, so I guess my objective of getting her to take me seriously was accomplished.

So that’s been the week so far. I think I’m in another one of my kind-of-sick periods, but at least now I’m barely noticing it. There’s too much life going on.

The Current Layer

December 5th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

The week began badly, but it looks like it’s headed to a strong finish. Although I didn’t have a particularly nasty hangover on Sunday, the general feeling of ickyness (as well as the sore muscles from all that dancing) carried over well into Monday and even half of Tuesday. Also, I suddenly developed a mild case of insomnia-ish symptoms, where I just couldn’t seem to get more than four or five hours of sleep a night. I’d try to go to bed early but toss and turn for several hours until close to 2 a.m., and then I’d wake up some time between 6 and 7 and then struggle to try and get back to sleep for several hours until giving up around 10. I spent most of my waking time obscenely tired, but even when I’d try to take a nap the best I could do was doze off for several seconds at the most. That was frustrating.

Then there was my lesson on Tuesday with a new student, Ms. Suhr. She also works for E.ON, but she’s much higher up on the corporate ladder than the people I’ve been dealing with so far. She works in the “controlling department” which apparently means she has a lot of control. I had to meet her in her 6th floor office for what was supposed to be an hour-long lesson but she said she was busy so she’d have to chop it down to 30 minutes. That was fine by me, as I had nothing in particular prepared for this lesson. It’s hard to know what to do in the first lesson with anyone—you don’t know how well they speak, what they need to work on, how they like to learn, etc. I explained this to her and said today I just wanted to talk to her and get an idea of how best to proceed. I could tell from the moment I walked in that I was not what she had expected. The longish hair and a beard is not the typical conservative business-like image that she had probably envisioned for her private English tutor. I also didn’t help my case by being, as it were, deliriously tired, to the point where it was a struggle to even keep my eyes open let alone form coherent English sentences.

When I opened the Energy Industry textbook to a page I’ve had some success with before—where a bunch of opinions regarding green technology and energy efficiency are put forward and you are supposed to express agreement or disagreement and discuss—she just read the first line and then looked at me and said something like she might decide not to continue her training if she does not feel that she will learn anything valuable by it. I wanted to say, “Look, bitch, if you want to fire me just do it right now so it will be completely apparent that you didn’t even give me a chance and I won’t feel bad about it.” But instead I just said it always takes some time with a new student to figure out how they learn best and the best way to conduct a lesson. Like, duh. I’m supposed to walk in there and twenty minutes later you’re going to be a perfect, fluent English speaker? Jesus god, lady.

But she reluctantly continued reading the statements and expressing her opinions, which I took and added to and got a little discussion going. Not surprisingly, she was the most conservative person I’ve met so far among these E.ON people, expressing her woes about such things as Germany’s ban on off-shore drilling within 40 km of the coast (because it’s not viable unless it’s done in shallow water) and admiration for the United State’s lack of regulation on the industry, as well as on industries across the board. And yet oddly enough, she still thought it was a good idea to reduce the speed limit to 90 km/hour to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Anyway, things got a little less tense during our discussion and she cut me off when it was time for me to go, actually ten minutes after she said it would be. We exchanged a few more words about the best way to proceed and then I left, glad to be out of there. But it was certainly very interesting to meet someone so high up in the corporate chain, especially in the particular industry I hate the most. I mean, this woman actually makes decisions that effect the direction of the entire E.ON organization, mostly nuclear but also coal and gas and oil (oh, and apparently they’ve got some wind turbines too). If you’d told me exactly a year ago while I was reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame that the following December I would be meeting with an actual “oil executive” in her 6th-floor office, I’d have laughed in your fucking face. Life is weird. And interesting.

That evening I had a lesson with Mr. Hennicke, the beginner-level German soldier. He’s a really nice guy and the lesson with him, albeit sometimes tedious because he is a beginner, was rather pleasant. So it was quite the juxtaposition of people that day.

On Wednesday, having nothing to do but a lesson with Mr. Dörge in the evening, I decided to do something I’d been thinking about doing for a week or so—and wrote more in my book. Yeah, after many months of neglect I finally dived back into my pet universe and continued the story that had come to one of those awful “this next part is going to be a bitch to write” standstills. Oddly enough, one of the major factors that brought this on was playing that computer game, Spore. After spending so much time running interstellar empires in that fake, computerized galaxy I’d been thinking a lot about getting back to my original interstellar empire in the fake imaginary galaxy in my own brain. I read what I’d written so far last week, and ideas about how to proceed were one of the many things that had been keeping me awake during my bouts of insomnia.

I wrote one section on Wednesday, then on Thursday morning I managed to crank out another section before heading to my lesson with the apprentices in Helmstedt. That went really well as usual. One of the things I did was an improv game where one person is a celebrity giving a press conference but only the students playing the role of reporters asking questions know who they are, and the person has to guess who they are based on the questions asked. I let the students come up with the celebrities, and there was Bruce Willis (me), Paris Hilton, Oprah, and lastly Sarah Palin. The poor girl playing Sarah Palin had no clue, and when I started to suspect she would never get it, I went to my computer, which was hooked up to a projector that displayed the screen on a monitor in the front of the room, and while the girl’s back was to the screen I pulled up the YouTube clip of Sarah Palin giving the interview in front of the turkey being slaughtered. When the student realized everyone was looking behind her and laughing, she turned and instantly realized who she was, and shouted, “Oh, nein!” It was quite hilarious. Tereza of course was there and looking as cute as ever but I made a somewhat conscious effort not to think too much about her this time, as there were other things on my mind anyway like the stuff happening in my fake book universe.

That night I sat listening to music and having a deep introspective experience for about an hour. I had way too many thoughts during this hour to document them all, but the basic theme was understanding the structure of my life and my personality in terms of layers. The high-school self was just one layer of this entire thing that itself was at the time only the top layer of a personality that went back all the way through childhood to the very circumstances of my birth regarding the whole thing about being abandoned by my father. A continual rejection of the circumstances that led to my birth—guy fucks a girl without thinking about the consequences—is at the core of the explanation for why I never have sex at all.

But more than that, it’s just so damned fascinating to look at each layer of my life from the past eight years or so and think about who I was in each of those cases, what has changed relative to the circumstances and what has stayed the same. For instance, the habit of going jogging or running regularly began during the sophomore-year of college layer during the time I was in love with and seeing Jessi on a regular basis. That habit broke during the exchange student year in Germany, revived somewhat during the relatively quiet and uneventful senior year of college, and then reached its peak during the first year of the Southern California layer, which was probably the healthiest layer in my life all-around, not just physically but mentally, financially, and emotionally as well. I just hated my job and my apartment, but other than that it was great. The habit of listening to music and introspecting itself has been with me far longer—in fact that habit has been with me in some form as long as I can remember, even if it was just indulging childhood fantasies while listening to the radio in the passenger’s seat of my parents’ car. It’s a solid part of who I am.

As for this book I’m writing, that’s also been present in nearly every layer of my life. Each period of my life brings with it new input, and thus each section that gets written during those periods has its own distinctive output. I wrote the parts of the grander story that I needed to write during each period of my life, and when I look at it as a whole and connect what I wrote to the time period in which I wrote it, I begin to see this incredibly elaborate picture involving the most subtle parallels of all kinds that I hadn’t even been aware of while I was writing. But the fact that I’ve remained true to this one idea—that in the almost 13 years since I first created this universe I have never given up on it—leads me to the resolve to never abandon it. It will certainly take new forms, and I’ve become resolved to the idea that absolutely nothing that has been written so far is anywhere near a publishable form, but everything that has been written can be used for future writings, to play as small or as a large a function as the grander narrative warrants, and when it’s all done I’ll have a true masterpiece, a life’s work I can be proud of, an abstract expression of who I am and the way I perceived the world, a patchwork with contributions from every single layer of myself.

This evening is Planeo’s Christmas party. I’m not really sure what to expect, but apparently it starts at 4 p.m. at some kind of racetrack. Whether we’ll be watching a race or driving the go-karts ourselves I don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is that it’s going to be weird. And interesting. And what more could you want out of life than weird and interesting?

Changing Weather

November 21st, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

On Wednesday night I commemorated the ten-year anniversary by reading old stuff I wrote from that period about Aimee, specifically my childhood-through-beginning-of-high-school memoirs and the first part of my first journal in which I had just got back from my second stint at the mental institution and wrote excessively about Aimee with whom I shared a biology class at that point and who was very much in the habit of completely ignoring me. I’ve reread that journal many times, but I think each time I’m more surprised by just how crazy I was back then. I was a complete solipsist at that point, believing I was the only conscious person and everyone else was in on some vast, cosmic conspiracy against me. I thought life was a puzzle I was supposed to try and figure out. That Aimee was my soul-mate on another dimension where we are always together and it was only in this illusory lifetime that we’re apart.

My mind has certainly changed a lot in some respects. Not so much in others.

Anyway, back to the present. Yesterday I had my second class with the apprentices from E.ON at Helmstedt. This time there were 9 people in the class as opposed to 4, so it was a very different atmosphere, and the most actual teacher-in-front-of-class-like dynamic I’ve ever had, compounded by the fact that they were all between 20 and 22 years old, so it was almost like a weird kind of flash-forward to my hoped-for-future of being a college professor.

Tereza was there and looking just as cute as last week, but there were two other very attractive girls there as well, so although their faces were a lot more plain, she didn’t really stick out as someone I’m going to pay a lot of emotional attention to. She did come up to me after the first half of class and told me she was really enjoying it (we’d been playing some fun games up to that point) which felt really nice, but I still don’t think my feelings for her will ever grow beyond the point of very minor, barely mentionable infatuation. I guess I’m glad about that, although the part of me that still craves hard-core emotional drama is disappointed.

Today was kind of annoying, as it’s the only day I have to wake up early so I’m not used to it and getting out of bed at 7:20 was a chore. I had to catch an 8:30 train to be on time for my 10:00 class, but the super-efficient German rail system was not too efficient this morning and my train was 20 minutes late, thus causing me to miss my 9:15 train at the layover in Braunschweig. So I had to wait until 10:10 to catch the next train to Helmstedt (which I could have got on in Hannover at 9:30 thus sleeping an extra hour) which meant I had to cancel the 10:00 class. So although the same amount of free time was eaten up, I didn’t get paid for the first hour. And in the 11:00 class, for the third week in a row only Siegfried showed up, and since neither he nor I wants to do a 2-hour one-on-one beginner-English lesson (that’s seriously a nightmarish prospect), we only met for 1 hour again. So I spent a good 3 1/2 travelling today to do one 1-hour lesson.

But I did get one consolation prize that almost made the entire thing worth it: it was snowing in Helmstedt as I walked back to the train station. It doesn’t snow in Hannover, and indeed no snow had fallen when I got back in town, but apparently just 50 km away it snows, and I was able to see the first snowfall of the year. If I hadn’t gone home from Santa Barbara last Christmas it would have been the first time I’d seen snow in over two years, but this was definitely the first “first snowfall” I’ve seen in that long, and it was fucking beautiful. So I couldn’t be too pissed off about the major “waste of time”.

Younger Students

November 15th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

Although I’m afraid writing it here will jinx it, I didn’t get sick. I felt shitty on Thursday but I went to sleep early and despite still not getting enough sleep on Friday morning—having woken up an hour and a half early—after doing some light drinking last night I feel better today. I swear there’s something medicinal about German wheat beer.

Anyway, the only thing interesting about the last couple of days was my lesson Thursday afternoon. This is a group of young guys and girls who have graduated Gymnasium (high school) and are working for E.ON as apprentices to learn the ins and outs of the energy industry before continuing their education. Apparently, there should normally be about 11 students, but on Thursday there were only 4, three girls and one guy, all of them 20 years old. Their English-speaking ability was about as intermediate as it gets. Thank god they weren’t complete beginners—I fucking hate teaching complete beginners but it seems most of my students are at that level—but they weren’t super-advanced either. Some were a little bit better than others but there were no huge gaping differences, which Frank warned me about before I started the course. Maybe there will be more differences when all 11 of the students are there.

Of the three girls, one was unattractive, another was attractive in the traditional sense but had “you’re not my type” written all over her, and another, my “contact person” for the group, a girl named Tereza, had a terribly cute face but just a decent body. Decent enough anyway. One ass-size smaller and I’d be smitten. She seemed to have a great personality too. But of course she lives in some far-away town so the odds of any of my fantasies about her coming to pass are, well, about the same as any of my other girl-related fantasies coming to pass: 0%. But she might get mentioned frequently in this journal.

Other than that, there’s really not much to say about anything. I’m glad it’s the weekend. I’m off tomorrow and then have just one lesson a day until Thursday, so it should be another fun week of wasting my time reading blogs and building galactic empires.

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

T.G.I.F.

October 24th, 2008 No comments

[Originally written in a private journal. Back-posted in 2011]

I can’t remember the last time I was ever so glad it was Friday. Probably high school was the last time that the weekend actually meant 2 days off. But for the first time since then I’ve worked all five days of the week, and I’ve now got two days of rest and relaxation. Like I’m some sort of adult or something.

So here’s what happened since I left off. Wednesday morning I did indeed have to wake up at the god-awful hour of 5:30 and I had my lesson from 7:15 to 8:45 as planned. Emotions again. It was a group of two women so I thought it would go over well, but it was just received warmly at best. Perhaps because I just haven’t been putting as much into it as I did at first. It’s like a comedian who’s done the same routine too many times. But it’s a sure-fire way to kill an hour and a half, so I’ll keep using it.

I got home after that lesson at 9:30 and slept until my Dünsing lesson at 12:30, which again bears no comment. Following that I had a nice long afternoon off, as my 4:00 appointment, Ms. Weiß, the very first student of mine, cancelled for the fifth or sixth time (she’s cancelled now more times than she’s shown up) but because it was a same-day cancellation apparently I’m still getting paid. That was excellent news. Plenty of quality blogging time that afternoon.

In the evening I met again with Herr Erpenstein at the pub and talked with him about his upcoming vacation in the States in June. I hope he mentioned my name when he made reservations at the Doubletree, which he said he’d do the next day. At first I was uncomfortable with the fact that I was sending business their way, but when I thought about it I realised that if word gets to them that I recommended their place from Germany, they’ll know I’m doing a lot better now than I was working for their sorry-ass hotel. So I sent them some business…so what? I’ll think of it as a “thanks for firing me” present.

Anyway, I also recommended some other things to see while he was there and he was really grateful, saying how lucky he was that I was the one to fill in for Amanda. He was drinking a beer during the “lesson” and he offered to buy me one. I hadn’t been planning to drink until Friday but I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to drink while technically working. Apparently Amanda, the normal trainer, drinks when she meets him at the pub, even if he isn’t. So that was two firsts in one—drinking while working, and drinking at a pub since I’ve been back in Germany. When the “lesson” was over he said to e-mail him sometime if I ever wanted to grab a drink with him. Maybe it was the 3 beers he’d had talking but he made a point of insisting the offer was sincere. So I’ll probably take him up on it, if only for the novelty of my 24-year-old, not-making-any-money ass drinking with a 40-something, well-paid German lawyer for the energy industry.

Thursday was another somewhat long day. My first class was the class I’d gone to with Amanda two weeks prior, and one of my favourite groups. Although there were only two there last week, there were four this week. All women, so that makes it that much better. And since I’d done Emotions last week, for the first time I broke out my new material: Personality Traits. That basically consisted of having them call out all the personality traits they knew, writing them on the board (in either the positive or negative column) and then handing out a printout from the web describing the different personality traits for different signs of the zodiac. This was actually a lesson I’d already half-way planned for my internet TEFL course, so I had a hand-out ready to go from all those months ago, asking them to put the proper personality trait with the proper Zodiac sign. Just as I’d hoped, all of this took more time than we actually had, so I considered that lesson a success.

What followed was my last lesson with Ms. Dünsing, which went okay. When we were done I offered my services in case she still wants practice to e-mail me anything she writes and I’ll correct it and send it back free of charge. I doubt she will, which is good because fuck that anyway. And fuck her. What a huge let-down. A cute nearly-18-year-old German girl who speaks good English was like my number-one fantasy but man, did she turn out to be dull. Good riddance.

After that it was back to Lehrte for two other classes that I also had last week, meaning two more run-throughs of my Personality Traits routine, which after 3 tries is now refined to the point of perfection. It’s interesting how organic these lesson-plans are. The first time you just do a tiny bit of preparation and then basically wing-it. Then you see what works and doesn’t work and it gets a little better the next time. And by the third time it’s reached a form where you know exactly what you’re doing and you do it well. Each lesson had one person who had been there the previous week, and another who hadn’t been. The first lesson was with the emotionless guys, only substituting one emotionless guy for another, somehow more emotionless guy. A class of two people who don’t like to talk isn’t all that great, but I got through it. And the second class had Jürgen, the nice over-emotional guy who had given me a ride to the train station last week, but not Ellen the woman who’d found my lesson “fascinating” but instead a guy who didn’t like to contribute. Jürgen dominated the whole lesson, but by that time I was really good at it so it went very well. The other guy gave me a ride to the train station this time, and the ride would have been in complete silence if I hadn’t been able to find 25 seconds worth of conversation to fill the void.

Last night I had another night-of-a-thousand-blogs, and then I got a good 9 hours of sleep before getting up at 8:15 this morning to catch my 9:30 train to my 11:00 lesson in Helmstedt. The 9:00 group had cancelled so at least I didn’t have to take the 7:30 train, but the 11:00 is the complete beginner group, the one I’d somehow spent two hours the previous week going through the room with questions of “what is this?” and whatnot. I should have done this the previous day, but while I ate breakfast I went on-line and found a web-site about the proper method of introducing the basics of the English language to complete beginners, and wrote it all down. Twenty-minutes of looking at this web-site gave me enough material for the 2 hour, 15 minute lesson.

Just like last week, Siegfried and Sabine were there, but this time the third member of the group, Jörg, also showed up. Having three of them there was a huge benefit because I could at least make them ask each other questions like “What is your name?” and “Is there a clock in the room?” but 2 hours of that shit was still a bit much. Yet I got through it and I dare say I did rather fucking well. Sabine, unfortunately, is a terribly slow learner so the whole course has to slow down for her sake, but I think a few things got through to her, like you say “Is there…?” when you’re asking a question and “There is…” when you’re answering it.

After returning to Hannover I had a meeting to go to at the Planeo office with two other teachers, Natalja who has taught the Helmstedt groups for the past two years, and Robert who is taking over all of the lessons that I’m not. The meeting was mostly for Robert’s sake because he has far more groups than me (and the lucky bastard has all the advanced groups with whom he can actually have meaningful discussions) and needed to move some things around, but I was able to talk to Natalja (an Estonian native who lived in the U.S. for 13 years so she speaks with a perfect American accent) about what I should be doing with the complete beginners (apparently exactly what I’ve been doing) and what to expect from the group that’s cancelled the past two weeks, which is apparently an all-female group of secretaries who like to spend most of the time chatting, so that should be a lot easier on me.

When we were just about ready to leave, I also met another English trainer, a Canadian guy named Alan, and while the three of us (me, Alan, and Natalja) were “chatting” I mentioned how I’m trying to build a social life so maybe we could do something some time? To make a short story even shorter, we’ve made tentative plans to go out this Tuesday night to an Irish pub for “Quiz Night”, which should be fun. In Frankfurt I went to Quiz Night at O’Dwyer’s (the first non-Caribbean bar I ever drank at) a few times and that was always fun. I learned that Alan had the same idea as me—to teach English abroad in order to see and experience as much of the world as he can during his time in it—and so far he’s been to Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and a couple other places I forget. I’m looking forward to talking to him.

And that brings me up to the present moment. I won’t be doing any socialising tonight. I’ve been waiting too long for another night of drinking alone, so I’ll put off calling the Australian guy Kym from Inlingua until tomorrow. But it looks like the chances are good that after about two and a half months here, my social life should “officially” begin this week. I still can’t technically afford to go out drinking several nights a week, but my attitude at this point is “whatever”. Since the rent fiasco last week I’ve been living on plastic money, so I might as well push it, true American style.

And speaking of America, it’s time for my daily blog-fix.